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Reward, Punishment, Prisoner’s Dilemma Essay

Reward and punishment are subcategories of operant conditioning. Rewards are meant to reinforce and increase behavior, while punishments decrease behavior. For example, if you want to potty train your dog, you would reward the dog every time it goes outside to pee by giving them a treat or petting them. On the other hand, if your dog pees indoors on the carpet, you would punish it by yelling or spanking them. Eventually, you will decrease the amount of reward little by little (by only feeding the dog treats every ten times the dog goes outside to pee), and the dog will be potty trained (conditioned).

Johnny and Sam have been arrested by the police for robbing the bank and the police put them in separate jail cells. The officer makes an offer to each telling them they may choose to testify against their friend or remain silent. If one confesses and their friend remains silent, the person who confesses will be free while their friend will be sentenced 10 years in prison. If both stay silent, they will be sentenced 6 months in prison while if both confess, both will get five years in jail. The dilemma that the prisoners face is that whatever the other does, each is better off confessing then remaining silent. However, if both confess, the outcome is worse then if they both had remained silent.

Pursuing for individual reward would logically lead to both prisoners betraying and getting sentenced a longer time in prison, but instead if the prisoners cooperated, they would both get less time in prison. Through experimenting with this in class, I came to a conclusion that factors such as gender affected the results. Males tended to be more self-interested and were dominated with betrayal while women tended to lean towards staying silent and not risking betraying their friends.

The marshmallow experiment was a study done in which a marshmallow was offered to each child for 15 minutes in a room, alone. The child was told that if they could resist eating the marshmallow for 15 minutes, they would be rewarded with another. Most children (two-thirds) were unable to resist the temptation and ate the marshmallow before the 15 minutes was over, even when they knew they’d be treated with another one in just 15 more minutes. This experiment was related with future success– the ability to wait longer correlated with success, since being able to wait showed greater self control, and self control is vital to future success.


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